When the Fences Come Down

Twenty-First-Century Lessons from Metropolitan School Desegregation

By Genevieve Siegel-Hawley

Afterword with Gary Orfield

236 pp., 6.14 x 9.21, 10 maps, 3 graphs, 3 tables, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2783-0
    Published: May 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2784-7
    Published: April 2016

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How we provide equal educational opportunity to an increasingly diverse, highly urbanized student population is one of the central concerns facing our nation. As Genevieve Siegel-Hawley argues in this thought-provoking book, within our metropolitan areas we are currently allowing a labyrinthine system of school-district boundaries to divide students--and opportunities--along racial and economic lines. Rather than confronting these realities, though, most contemporary educational policies focus on improving schools by raising academic standards, holding teachers and students accountable through test performance, and promoting private-sector competition. Siegel-Hawley takes us into the heart of the metropolitan South to explore what happens when communities instead focus squarely on overcoming the educational divide between city and suburb.

Based on evidence from metropolitan school desegregation efforts in Richmond, Virginia; Louisville, Kentucky; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, between 1990 and 2010, Siegel-Hawley uses quantitative methods and innovative mapping tools both to underscore the damages wrought by school-district boundary lines and to raise awareness about communities that have sought to counteract them. She shows that city-suburban school desegregation policy is related to clear, measurable progress on both school and housing desegregation. Revisiting educational policies that in many cases were abruptly halted--or never begun--this book will spur an open conversation about the creation of the healthy, integrated schools and communities critical to our multiracial future.

About the Author

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley is assistant professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.
For more information about Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, visit the Author Page.


"When the Fences Come Down is the book that I myself would have written about the housing-school linkage, but Genevieve Siegel-Hawley has done it so much better than I could have.   She masterfully combines a comprehensive review of scholarly literature about the housing-school nexus with case studies that highlight the key value of county-wide school districts covering both a central city and its suburbs in promoting racial and economic integration."--David Rusk, Founding President, Building One America, and author, Cities without Suburbs

"Professor Siegel-Hawley's book is a direct challenge to current education "reformers" who think we can close the achievement gap by keeping low income children in separate, segregated schools.  She uses real life examples to demonstrate how state and local leaders can work together to make housing and school integration a reality."--Philip Tegeler, National Coalition on School Diversity

"Genevieve Siegel-Hawley uses the experience of four southern metropolitan areas to evaluate regional approaches to school desegregation and how they relate to changing patterns in housing segregation. This book contributes significantly to an area clearly in need of further research--regional approaches to school desegregation."--Thomas Luce, Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, University of Minnesota Law School

"When the Fences Come Down is a timely and well-considered contribution to the literature on desegregation in American schools. It promises to reframe the discourse on the topic so that educators and policymakers can look broader than a school and more acutely than the entire nation and instead settle their focus on a more appropriate unit of analysis--a region. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley looks squarely at issues that have heretofore been identified as important but have not received the scrutiny they merit as factors that may help us fully understand the conflicted legacy of Brown v. Board. Each chapter is rich with data, subtlety, and complex problems and solutions."--Jeffrey S. Brooks, Monash University